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Life in Porirua as an RTLB

By Donna Gemaries
Date posted: 22 April 2015

DonnaI love teaching. I went to Teachers College in Christchurch in the early days of the 3 years training so we were “bonded” to teach in New Zealand for 3 more years. That worked to my advantage. When my husband was transferred to Nelson with his job, I was guaranteed a job for the term to complete my “bond”.

At the Intermediate College I had a choice of moving to complete my “Country Service” or of staying to teach the Special Class for two years to get off the bottom salary cap. I chose the Special Class. They were two wonderfully enriched years with wonderful teenagers. In those days students were “held back” rather than stay with their peer group. They were all taller than me apart from the wheelchair user. I worked hard but kept thinking, 'there has to be a better way of educating students with special learning needs than lumping them all together in one room away from their peers'.

When we transferred to Wellington I taught at Plimmerton School, where my children attended, before branching out to other Porirua schools, including Titahi Bay Intermediate and Rangikura. Rangikura was open plan teaching which didn’t suit everyone’s learning style but we certainly learned as teachers to organise learning centres and rotation groups to cater for each student.

I was offered a one-year job at Waitangirua Intermediate as the Guidance and Learning Unit (GLU) teacher. I started on Teacher Only day. Unfortunately, a student had committed suicide that day so students were told they could come to my classroom for support. I learned about the effects of grief and loss on adolescents that year as well as respect for the school kaumatua. The job included itinerating around the 10 Porirua East Schools, Rangikura, Tairangi, Waitangirua Intermediate, Maraeroa, Corinna, Glenview, Brandon Intermediate, Russell, Canons Creek, Holy Family, to support students with behaviour needs.

Following this, I won the job at Tawa Intermediate as a Guidance and Learning Unit teacher again itinerating around the Tawa-Linden schools and again thinking there had to be a better way to support students in trouble.

It was at this time that the Ministry of Education brought in the policy of Special Education 2000. This policy promoted Inclusion where every student had the right to attend their nearest school. Special classes, assessment classes and special schools for behaviour students were closed. The Guidance Learning Units were closed and the teachers combined with the Itinerating Special Needs (ITSN) teachers who went from school to school, working one on one with a student to improve their learning. New positions were created called Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour (RTLB). There were 700 in New Zealand so we were offered four Special Education Masters papers to train us consistently. This was a world first with Waikato, Auckland and Victoria universities forming a coalition. Many went on to complete their Masters in Education. RTLB training covered Classroom context for Learning and Behaviour. We became a support and change agent for class teachers rather than working one on one in a little cubby hole outside the classroom. We specialised in programme adaptation and classroom management, diversification and cooperative learning. We studied Maori in context with marae based learning.

Our client became the teacher with the student at the centre. We could meet with parents, caregivers and whanau and have collaborative meetings to form a plan. The student could also attend so they could have a voice into their own learning and effect a change on their behaviour. I was based at Aotea College so three RTLBs covered both Aotea and Porirua Colleges to Year 10 and the contributing schools of Corinna, Holy Family, and Tairangi.

Special Education 2000 continued until 2014. Then there was a need to “Transform” the RTLB service. Schools were expelling and suspending fewer students. Fewer students were truanting. Now the Government’s emphasis was away from the success of education in New Zealand to the failure of the long tail of National Standards with underachieving boys, Maori and Pasifika. The target became numeracy and literacy.

RTLBs were “transformed” into Clusters. I am now in the Rimutaka Cluster based in Upper Hutt with six others while the other nine are based in the Wairarapa. Porirua, Paremata to Titahi Bay all combined at Titahi Bay Intermediate as a Cluster of twenty-two, with the other twenty-two in Wellington City - but they all cover the whole region.

There are still many issues that RTLBs need to keep addressing in Porirua so that children with special learning and behaviour needs keep reaching their full potential.

  • Transition plans between schools, classes and sectors need better organisation.
  • Interventions are still hindered by long waiting lists to access medical and health professionals for mental health diagnoses.
  • Plans are hindered due to transient families. (I have one Year 2 boy with learning difficulties now attending his sixth school).
  • There is a need for greater intervention at a younger age so that systems are already in place. E.g. Dyslexia strategies are already practised such as using a Reader / Writer for assessments in primary schools before applying for NCEA Level one Special Assessment conditions.
  • The CYFs, Health and Education partnership Gateway is effective when all information is shared quickly and efficiently but sometimes the system fails when students move out of the area and are not followed up.
  • Classes and schools need positive behaviour plans in place for students with autism and attention deficit disorders. What works well for these students will work well for everyone.
  • Cultural safety and partnership needs to be inclusive. At all times we need to protect the Mana of the child or young person. They are the little seed of the great totara tree. They need all our support to grow through the turbulent winds of childhood and adolescence successfully.

Life in Porirua as an RTLB

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